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ASLA Landmark Award to "Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago"
Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, in Partnership with the City of Chicago and Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association


Since 1993, a strip of beautiful landscape has enlivened downtown Chicago's streetscape. The landscape medians run down Chicago's Magnificent Mile, spanning 33 blocks, from Roosevelt Road in Chicago's Loop to Oak Street in the city's Gold Coast.
Photo: Scott Shigley

It all started with four parkway planters in front of the Crate & Barrel flagship store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago in 1991. The retailer's colorful, overflowing horticulture was a distinct relief to the drab gray streetscapes. Mayor Richard M. Daley called Crate & Barrel Founder Gordon Segal to inquire about the planters, which led to the mayor and the Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association cooperating to beautify Michigan Avenue. The Michigan Avenue Streetscape project pursued an attractive but pragmatic landscape design. In 1992 Mayor Daley pledged the initial city capital to design, build and pay for purchasing and construction costs, and entreated the retailers on Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River to pledge $200,000 annually for the first 20 years to fund upkeep costs. The city paid for the streetscape costs south of the river to Roosevelt Road, as that retail area did not have the financial resources to maintain such a project. The landscape architect--Douglas Hoerr, the young designer who planned and installed Crate & Barrel's parkway planters--had to balance the competing priorities of the many stakeholders. Many argued for sidewalk trees. The landscape architect knew mature trees would be stunning, but would block views store fronts. Hoerr also had to argue against ornate planters favored by the architects. Such planters would cost too much to produce and maintain, leaving little money for plantings. Selecting plants was also a challenge; they had to endure the harsh climate, pollution and traffic exhausts. A precise mix of plants and planting scheme was required for the changing conditions, without sacrificing visual appeal or increasing costs. The basic design for the Michigan Avenue streetscape has remained the same over the decades: Three installations that correspond with the spring, summer and fall seasons are installed each year; no two years feature the same designs. The 80 median planters offer 27,000 sq. ft. of planting space and cover 33 blocks (2.3 miles) between Roosevelt Road in the Loop and Oak Street at Michigan Avenue's north end. It costs approximately $20.40 per sq. ft. for the three seasonal plant rotations. Plants are salvaged and either donated or replanted. The medians provide employment; maintenance is contracted out by the city to two consultant crews. A Safe Haven Foundation runs one of these crews and trains and employs at-risk youth, veterans and people recovering from substance abuse.

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March 22, 2019, 10:32 pm PDT

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